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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Gentlemen Callers

Corinne Hoex

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To purchase Gentlemen Callers

Title: Gentlemen Callers
Author: Corinne Hoex
Genre: Novel
Written: 2015 (Eng. 2022)
Length: 137 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Gentlemen Callers - US
Gentlemen Callers - UK
Gentlemen Callers - Canada
Valets de nuit - Canada
Valets de nuit - France
from: Bookshop.org (US)
directly from: Dalkey Archive Press
  • French title: Valets de nuit
  • Translated by Caitlin O'Neil

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Our Assessment:

A- : erotic divertissements, neatly done

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
La Libre . 18/12/2015 Monique Verdussen
Publishers Weekly . 31/12/2021 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "The formula can start to feel repetitive, but Hoex breaks it enough times to keep things interesting (.....) Men don't always satisfy the narrator, but the idea of them keeps renewing her desire. This carries the reader along with its abundant surprises." - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Gentlemen Callers is presented as an album of dreams, a woman describing the nightly visions she has in her sleep, each an encounter (of very varying sorts) with a man. Each chapter or piece involves a man identified only by his profession, ranging from gas station attendant to museum guard, and from priest to pirate to beekeeper; three of the gentlemen-callers of the night appear twice. The interactions and encounters the woman has with these men in her dreams are (almost) all erotic -- yet Hoex pulls off the neat trick of presenting the passionately sexual without being conventionally explicit.
       The intimate physical experiences are artfully evoked, with Hoex avoiding using any of the usual (much less the vulgar) terms for various sexual activity and bodily parts. The descriptions are physical and often sensual, but both in vocabulary and detail Hoex dances around the familiar. There's no explicit consummation beyond when, for example: "the Holy Spirit enters me", and the most literally explicit she gets does not go beyond, for example, the descriptions in 'The Sculptor', where the narrator imagines herself as a piece of marble being chiseled and shaped by the artist:

     My sculptor's hand slides over my hip. down to my legs, slips between my thighs, flattering, insistent, and fashions there at great length that impalpable place, the elements of pleasure, a liqueur, a slow heat building at my core. Open to his hand, eyes closed, I smile.
       (Hoex also displays a nice sense of humor throughout -- nowhere more so than here, where the sculptor cruelly lets her down, opting then for decorousness rather than fashioning and finishing that 'impalpable place' au naturel.)
       In her dreams, the woman is often transformed, not human but instead something other -- that piece of marble being worked on by the sculptor, but also animals (a cat; a panther), a fountain, food simmering in a pot, a forest, an ocean wave, even an envelope. Each form allows for erotically charged action, as when the woman dreams of herself as the sand that the beach attendant is raking:
I am the white sand Sergio is combing through. The shifting substance, fleeting, elusive. That luminous sand. That immaterial material. I feel the little rake rasp at my soul. I am each grain. The minutest particle. I feel each clench, each tumble.
     Sergio rakes on. Skillfully, artfully, he creates curls, whorls, winding, sinuous, and swirling like a Zen garden. At each movement, shivers ravish me.
       The pieces are all very short, almost all only a page or two in length, but they are fully-formed experiences, succinct but fleshed out -- if often with that slightly hazy feel of dreams. They are also not merely descriptions of physical encounters, but rather offer actual story, progressing variously to conclusions of sorts. Variations on the erotic dominate, of course, but Hoex mixes things up, too. Among the most successful pieces is the one featuring a night watchman, who stations himself in front of the woman's bedroom door, promising she won't be disturbed -- and who, somewhat to her chagrin, keeps his word, allowing her a night of undisturbed sleep: it is a dream in which she complains that she didn't even dream.
       Each piece also comes with an appropriate epigraph -- practically all taken from classical French literature (Boris Vian is the most recent of the authors quoted) --, appealing little embellishments which give the whole collection even more of an album-feel.
       There is a passivity to Hoex's protagonist: she is woman (or whatever form she dreams herself into)-as-object, always being acted on, only very occasionally taking a bit of initiative and never really grabbing the bull by the horns, as it were. This is, in part, dictated by the framework Hoex uses, each chapter titled after an actor, the pieces themselves then consisting of their action (and, sometimes, inaction) and (the protagonist's) reaction; still, she is not without agency: there is always a sense of the protagonist playing her part in shaping her dreams as well.
       Gentlemen Callers is all evocative tease. Not explicit, much less down and dirty, it is nevertheless very deeply erotically charged. Hoex's playful approach is very enjoyable -- and she carries out the whole exercise very well (as, in the wrong hands, this sort of thing could be dreadful). Caitlin O'Neil meets the challenge of rendering the suggestive episodes in English very well as well, with Gentlemen Callers a consistently pleasurable read.
       This is finely wrought and very good erotic fiction, both Hoex and O'Neil displaying a touch that is both light and deft. It would be very easy for this approach to go wrong, but there is barely a misstep here. Yes, Gentlemen Callers is rather slight, but it's an excellent variations-on-a-theme variation (a kind of literature I certainly have a weakness for) and is certainly a success, Hoex accomplishing exactly what she sets out to do. Lots of good fun -- and appealingly suggestive.

- M.A.Orthofer, 10 June 2022

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Gentlemen Callers: Reviews: Corinne Hoex: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Belgian author Corinne Hoex was born in 1946.

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© 2022 the complete review

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